Sanctuary Spotlight: Five Lakes Muskegon

Tucked away behind a series of commercial zones in Muskegon County, the Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is a beautiful 106-acre complex of wetlands, oak-pine barrens, and dry sand prairie. With land acquisitions by MNA beginning in 1977, the sanctuary has grown many times over the years, with the latest acquisition of 25 acres in 2011.

Intense timber harvesting by the previous landowners resulted in thick regeneration of oak saplings and other woody species that began to shade out the savanna oriented understory. In 2018, MNA entered into a partnership agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to enhance the savanna/barrens community by conducting woody growth mowing across the new parcel.

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Aerial view of coastal plain marsh. MNA Archives.

The sanctuary is located within the Five Lakes Muskegon area, so named because although the Federal survey of 1836 showed one large body of water, it has long ago shrunk to what is known locally as the “Five Lakes”. This change in the water level could be the reason for the several different types of natural communities found here.

Such a diverse landscape as found here supports an impressive array of herptiles, particularly turtles and frogs that depend on the wetlands for water, with turtles using the surrounding sandy soils for egg laying sites. A variety of bird species use the sanctuary throughout the year; the state-threatened common loon, special-concern classified American bittern, and many species of conservation priority species including the pied-billed grebe, great blue heron, red-headed woodpecker, and field sparrow are annual visitors. The sanctuary also includes an extraordinary number of rare wildflowers, sedges, rushes and grasses.

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A volunteer holds a green frog. Photo by John Bagley.

The biodiversity of this sanctuary makes preserving this habitat a high priority in Michigan. The work being conducted at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is an excellent example of how MNA approaches stewardship at special sites. By scientifically assessing restoration needs, seeking partnerships to secure needed resources to conduct restoration, and providing ongoing monitoring and maintenance, MNA staff and volunteers are in the best possible position to sustain imperiled natural communities and expand habitat for the rare plants and animals found within them.

MNA’s conservation work at Five Lakes Muskegon was recognized by the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition in 2019 with a “Sustainability Champion Award”; a testament to the hard work of the volunteers, stewards, and partners that help MNA achieve its goal of protecting Michigan’s natural heritage.

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Volunteer Steward, Claire DeBlanc, and Director of Outreach & Education, Julie Stoneman, accept the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition “Sustainability Champion” Award.

You can help MNA maintain this, and many other unique nature sanctuaries by joining a volunteer sanctuary workday – learn more at michigannature.org!

2018 Year in Review

A Year of Milestones

2018 Year in Review Cover

Two major anniversaries distinguish a busy and exciting 2018.

The first, of course, is the 45th anniversary of the Michigan Nature Association’s campaign that prevented logging of the largest stand of old growth white pine left in Michigan and established our Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary in 1973. The drive to raise needed funds to secure Estivant galvanized individuals, organizations and service clubs from all over the state and still stands as one of MNA’s crowning achievements.

In that spirit, we were delighted to receive a $90,000 challenge grant in honor of the Estivant Pines anniversary, and this new campaign is underway as this Year in Review goes to print.  With your generous support, we will add 60 more acres to this iconic nature sanctuary and direct $90,000 in challenge dollars to stewardship needs in our nature sanctuary network.

2018 is also the 45th anniversary of the federal Endangered Species Act.  The Endangered Species Act is an essential, national framework for protecting rare, threatened and endangered species but it has been under assault since its passage in 1973.  2018 was no different and we made our voice heard by stepping up to formally oppose rule changes that could have a devastating impact on the statute. We will continue to monitor and act on threats to this critical environmental law.

One of the major limitations of the Endangered Species Act, however, is the lack of funding for protecting critical habitat.  Remarkably, twenty years before Congress passed this landmark legislation, MNA’s founders recognized the need for action to protect Michigan’s rarest and most vulnerable species and natural communities, pioneering the strategy of protecting land in Michigan to do so.  We pursue that mission every day thanks to their foresight and our members and donor who continually rally to the cause.

Celebrating these two major milestones bookend a year’s worth of notable activities that you will read about in this Year in Review.  None of our work is possible without the commitment of our members, donors, and volunteers, and I hope you are as proud as I am of what we have accomplished together.  Be it saving old growth white pines in the Keweenaw, protecting imperiled natural communities across our great state, or defending critical policies for threatened and endangered species, we are truly all in this together.

Thank you for all you do—I look forward to another year of working with you to protect Michigan’s incredible natural heritage.

Garret Johnson
Executive Director

 

The Importance of Environmental Stewardship in Fighting Phragmites

By Hannah DeHetre, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is a land conservation organization that works to protect and preserve natural areas in Michigan by recruiting local volunteers to help maintain MNA sanctuaries as well as implementing conservation education. MNA was founded in 1952, as a bird study group, and now the organization owns and manages over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan. MNA relies heavily on volunteers and environmental stewardship. According to Rachel Maranto, the Stewardship Coordinator in the Lower Peninsula, volunteers are the “bread and butter” for MNA because “Michigan is such a big state and there are very few staff covering the state, so what is accomplished hinges on volunteer participation.”

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A massasauga rattlesnake that we saw at one of the MNA sanctuaries this summer. The Massasauga is, as of 2016, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Service, U. F.), demonstrating the importance of preserving MNA sanctuaries (photo: Rachel Maranto).

To manage over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan, volunteers come out and help with work days. Over the summer, the work days involved the removal of invasive species such as autumn-olive, garlic mustard, and phragmites. According to Maranto, the management practice that is predominately used to control phragmites is spraying of herbicide. Due to her limited time, volunteers, and funding, herbicide backpacks are the tools used to deal with phrags, and it normally takes three days throughout the season to hit all the phrags in Saginaw Wetlands. Maranto also said that ideally, she would like to try mowing the phrags in the winter when the ground is frozen, and then spraying in the spring so that the vegetation is shorter, and therefore less herbicide would have to be used and it would be easier to spray. According to Maranto, the main goal of MNA in dealing with phragmites, especially at Saginaw Wetlands, is containment. Right around the sanctuary is a large invasion of phragmites around Lake Huron, and so without large-scale cooperation, all MNA can do is control the phrag invasion within their own sanctuary.

This summer, I interned at the Michigan Nature Association as a Stewardship Assistant. I spent the summer traveling to sanctuaries all around southeastern Michigan doing site-monitoring, setting up boundary markers, and most importantly: removing invasive species. We used various techniques to remove invasive species (not just phrags), such as just pulling them out of the ground, herbicide spraying, and cutting the plant and dabbing herbicide sponges on the cut stem. During my time with MNA, I got to meet some really great and dedicated volunteers, who were taking time out of their day, in the heat, to make their neighborhood a nicer place by managing their local sanctuary. Maranto told me that MNA attracts volunteers who are engaged and dedicated to helping MNA, so whenever someone leaves, it is hard to fill their shoes. For a small-scale conservation organization like the Michigan Nature Association, volunteers are vital for invasive species management. This was an interesting thing for me to learn this summer, as it really emphasizes the importance of local people caring about their neighborhood.

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The entrance sign to Leflgen Sanctuary (photo: Hannah DeHetre)

My last day interning for MNA was phrag spraying at Saginaw Wetlands. Rachel, another intern, and I spent hours walking around and spraying any phragmites that we saw. It was hot and sunny, I had on a really heavy herbicide backpack, and it was really hard work. It takes real dedication and passion to work that hard for a goal that some people think is impossible to achieve, and when I asked Maranto if she ever feels discouraged, or like she is fighting a losing battle, she said that overall she is not discouraged with the work the MNA does and any discouragement that she may feel just comes from a tough day spraying phrags in the heat. She also says that overall she has seen an improvement in the phrag management in the five years that she has worked for MNA. She says that typically, one year they spray a large stand of phragmites, the next year they are dead, and the following years, volunteers just have to come back and spray any repsouts- so there is improvement, which is why Maranto does not feel discouraged.

The areas around Saginaw Wetlands are really infested, and MNA has to fight against that, and as I said before, MNA’s goal in phragmites management is containment, and that the best invasive management practice is to discover the invasion and remove it before it can get out of control, which MNA is doing well. When asked about MNA’s future plans for dealing with phragmites, Maranto said that if resources and personnel do not change, then it will be more of the same: spraying herbicide with volunteers who are willing to help. However, if some sort of biocontrol were to be developed and implemented, MNA would be a willing participant in that management practice. Another opportunity that Maranto would be interested in would be more collaborating with neighbors of sanctuaries, and with the help of partners to share the administrative burden and workload, bigger equipment could be used for ecological management.

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Another intern, Liz, and I taking a break after LOTS of phrag spraying. We still have a smile on our faces! (photo: Rachel Maranto)

The Michigan Nature Association is a conservation organization that manages and protects over 175 sanctuaries throughout Michigan. While working there this summer, I learned about and employed various management practices used by MNA to remove invasive species from their sanctuaries. More than that though, I learned about the power of local volunteers. These are people who just care about nature, and about their neighborhoods, and are willing to spend hours in the summer working hard outside for the sake of taking care of these sanctuaries. Effective conservation and management can only happen with the help of these volunteers (so go out and volunteer)!

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Bonus: Monarch caterpillar that we saw at Saginaw Wetlands (photo: Rachel Maranto)

A Special Night of Music and Celebration

Join the Michigan Nature Association for the 
Annual Fall Recognition Dinner and
Silent Auction to Benefit Environmental Education

Celebrating Estivant Pines 45th Anniversary

Friday, November 16 at 6:30 p.m.
Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center – East Lansing

Join Us for a Night of Music and Celebration!

Join MNA as we recognize the donors and volunteers who make our
continued success possible. The Annual Fall Recognition Dinner and Silent Auction
will honor those who dedicate countless hours to MNA and reflect
on another year of success.

MNA will announce those being honored with the Volunteer of the Year Award,
Mason and Melvin Schafer Distinguished Service Award,
Richard W. Holzman Award, and more!

Annual Fall Recognition Dinner Graphic 2

Special Musical Guest – Back by Popular Demand!

Root Doctor

Root Doctor plays a diverse mix of classic soul and R&B alongside traditional blues
and inspired original material. Along with over 20 years of club, concert and festival
performances, they have released four recordings to local and national acclaim.

Keynote Speaker

Dr. Dave Ewert
2018 Edward G. Voss Conservation Science Award Recipient

As an acclaimed scientist, Dave is a Kirtland’s Warbler Program Director
and Senior Conservation Specialist for the American Bird Conservancy.
Dave will share first-hand insights into the successful international efforts to bring
the Kirtland’s warbler back from the brink of extinction and challenges for the future.

Silent Auction to Benefit Environmental Education
All proceeds from the silent auction will go to the Environmental Education Fund
to provide nature education opportunities for students and families in Michigan.
See the variety of fun Michigan experiences offered in the 2018 Silent Auction Catalog!

Register Today!

Tickets ($30 each) can be purchased by contacting
Jess Foxen at 866-223-2231 or jfoxen@michigannature.org.
Please include your meal choice of either chicken, salmon, or vegetarian.
The deadline to register is November 15.
Register online here.

We hope to see you there!

MNA Expands with Room to Collaborate

The creation of a collaborative space at our headquarters in Okemos where nonprofit, agency and other partners can gather has been a vision since we purchased our building a few years ago. That vision is now reality with the recent completion and furnishing of our new Margaret and Clifford Welsch Environmental Education Room.

Margaret Welsch with her daughter, granddaughters and great-granddaughters

Thank you to the Welsch family!

Fostering conservation dialogue and action are primary motives behind the construction of the new room, made possible by a generous gift from Margaret and Clifford Welsch, enthusiastic supporters of MNA’s education mission. The Welsch Education Room has already been used for meetings, training workshops, educational seminars, and collaborative partnerships by groups such as Michigan Audubon, Michigan Forest Association, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Wetlands Association and the Michigan Vernal Pool Partnership.

Ed Room with groupFlexible seating and table arrangements can accommodate theatre, classroom or workshop configurations for as many as 100 participants. The room is available to any nonprofit but reservations are required, and reasonable fees may be applied for use of the room outside of normal business hours. Contact michigannature@michigannature.org to inquire about reserving the room.

To complement the Welsch Education Room, plans are underway to convert the grounds at our building from conventional office park landscaping to native plants friendly for birds, butterflies, bees and pollinators. The goal is to use the outdoor space to educate landowners and businesses about the importance and attractiveness of native landscaping.

Plant sign in the gardenMembers of District IIB of the Michigan Garden Club donated plant signs for MNA headquarters to help visitors identify a wide variety of recently installed native plants. The project to transform our conventional office park landscaping to one that is bird, bee, and pollinator friendly is a collaboration between Michigan Nature Association, Michigan Audubon (and a grant from National Audubon’s Plants for Birds program), Christopher Hart of HartScapes LLC, many volunteers, and now District IIB.

Fall 2018 Michigan Nature Magazine

There is good news on the front to stem the decline of wildlife in Michigan – a powerful plan exists that could counter otherwise devastating trends.

As our feature story explains (p. 18), Michigan’s updated Wildlife Action Plan, facilitated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources with the help of MNA and other conservation partners, is designed to provide a strategic framework to coordinate conservation in Michigan for wildlife and their habitats.

We believe the Wildlife Action Plan is a conservation strategy for the state unlike anything we have had before. MNA is aligning our goals and actions with those of the Wildlife Action Plan across all our programs – land protection, habitat restoration, stewardship, outreach and education – to ensure we are providing as much value as we can.

We are proud to be a champion for the Wildlife Action Plan, but it will take many collaborators to fully implement it. As Amy Derosier, the Michigan DNR’s Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator, says in our Q&A (p. 33), “Ultimately, it will take many people at the table who care and are engaged” to implement the Wildlife Action Plan and address our growing wildlife crisis. We couldn’t agree more.

Estivant Pines: A Living Museum

The Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, protecting the largest remaining stand of old growth white pines in Michigan, celebrates its 45th anniversary.

By William Rapai

Time passes slowly at Estivant Pines.

Nobody knows that better than Gary Willis, a forester with the Michigan Department of Bertha and groupNatural Resources and former assistant professor at Michigan Technological University. Willis knows this place better than most people. When you see this preserve through his eyes you begin to understand that the best way to truly appreciate this place is not to consider time in hours, years, and decades but in centuries, periods and eras.

Estivant Pines is the Michigan Nature Association’s 510 acre sanctuary in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Despite its remote location—down a pothole-strewn dirt road south of Copper Harbor—it is one of the organization’s most popular sanctuaries. Every summer, thousands of people from across the United States visit, wandering two looping trails to marvel at white pine trees that stand 120 feet tall.

But there aren’t many visitors to Estivant Pines in the late winter or early spring because the road that leads to the sanctuary is usually under several feet of snow or too muddy to be drivable. However, the period after snowmelt and before trees emerge from dormancy is the best time to see and understand time’s impact by looking down—not up—and closely examining what is and isn’t here.

What is here is volcanic bedrock that dates back to the earliest period of Earth’s history and carbonized tree stumps that are the remains of a cataclysmic forest fire more than 200 years ago. What isn’t here is surprising and confounding. The plant life in the understory is healthy—lots of lichens, mosses, ferns, maples, birches, cedars, spruces, and balsams. Surprisingly, there are few young white pines even though these 240-300 year-old trees have produced millions of viable seeds during their lifetimes.

img 1198Willis gained these insights when he was a forester for the Michigan Nature Association. In the late 1990s he started working at Estivant Pines at the request of Michigan Nature Association’s founder Bertha Daubendiek. Willis was given a unique opportunity to study these ancient trees after a logger accidentally trespassed on the sanctuary and cut a number of the trees along one of the boundaries.

Daubendiek sent Willis out to write a damage report, but during the process he started to see this incident as a unique opportunity to study how these giant trees grew. As he measured the width of the stumps and correlated individual ring-widths he began to understand these trees through the prism of time.

But it’s not just the trees that are measured in time. Much of this sanctuary sits on a high ridge of volcanic bedrock that runs between Annie Creek and the Montreal River that dates back to the earliest period of Earth’s history, some 1.1 billion years ago. In fact, Willis said, other researchers at Michigan Tech have discovered the Keweenaw was once one of the most active volcanic regions on Earth.

It’s difficult to see it from the landscape level, but Willis says if you look at an aerial photo of the peninsula, you can see a series of ridges left behind from that volcanic flow. Those ridges run parallel to the shoreline and curve as the shoreline curves and narrows as it reaches the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Even though we tend to think of these trees as old, the plant community here is in its infancy, relatively speaking. Plants—trees, shrubs and grasses—established themselves only about 10,000 years ago following the withdrawal of the Wisconsin Glacier.

Tree roots - Brittany AllenMultiple glaciers over the past 2.5 million years left behind a thin layer of soil that can support plant life but generally is not deep enough to anchor a 100-foot-tall tree. To compensate for the lack of soil, most of the pines have grown roots deep into fractures and crevices in the bedrock. Some trees have been lost to windstorms but remarkably few considering that the sanctuary sits at an altitude that varies between 200 and 500 feet above lake level. That altitude leaves these trees exposed to powerful winter winds that blow across Lake Superior. In the winter, this sanctuary can get more than 275 inches of snow in a single season. The combination of heavy, wet snow and strong wind can bring even the hardiest tree down, says Donald Dickmann, professor emeritus of silviculture and physiological ecology at Michigan State University and co-author of The Forests of Michigan. Fortunately, most of the snow that blankets the Keweenaw’s rocky ridges is light and fluffy lake effect powder.

Summer brings heavy thunderstorms and gusty winds, and the trees, which tower above the hardwood canopy, are sitting ducks for lightning strikes. One of those lightning strikes more than 200 years ago might have been the spark for a fire that ravaged this area and set the stage for the Estivant Pines as we see them today.

Those carbonized tree stumps and little bits of charcoal strewn across the landscape point to a potent wildfire that swept through the area in the late 1700’s. Willis said it likely wiped out most of the white pines that had been standing on that spot perhaps for centuries. Just as the towering, mature pines today prevent the young pines from growing underneath, those earlier pines prevented any new ones from growing beneath them. It’s not that these trees are refusing to reproduce; it’s just their reproductive strategy. Barring a major fire, disease or insect threats, these pines could be here for another 300 years before they reach the end of their natural lifecycle. As that happens, the maples, birches, spruces, and balsams that make up the understory will continue to grow and mature and create a thick new canopy 50 feet or more under the tops of the pines. As those trees mature and die, fuel for a future fire will continue to build up on the forest floor, waiting for a spark.Marianne Glosenger - Estivant Pines NO WATERMARK hi res

When that fire eventually arrives, the pines’ continued existence will depend on its intensity. A moderate fire may not cause any damage because the old trees are protected by a thick layer of bark. But if the fire is intense enough the heat will fry the layer under the bark that transports water and nutrients up the trunk. That will kill the tree even if the fire does not reach the top branches. If that happens, the tree, knowing that it will soon die, will put all its energy into seed production. The year following the fire, massive amounts of seeds will cover the now-bare, ash-covered soil and thousands of new white pine trees will germinate if there is enough rain.

And the cycle will begin again.

Ancient white pine trees like the Estivant Pines once covered a good portion of Michigan. loggingIn the late 19th century, lumberjacks cut these trees to supply wood for houses, barns, and carriages needed by a fast-growing nation. At the time, it was thought that Michigan had an inexhaustible supply of white pine.

Only a few stands of virgin white escaped the lumberjack’s gluttony—this one, of course, one at Hartwick Pines State Park northeast of Grayling, and another stand on private property east of L’Anse are the three best known. But Don Dickmann of Michigan State says he has found small stands of them in other places in the Upper Peninsula. Those stands, like Estivant Pines, were spared through random chance and, more recently, the passion of local citizens who wanted to preserve these trees for what they represent.

nancy leonard - epines make a difference dayTwo people who have come to deeply appreciate the history represented by these pines are Bill and Nancy Leonard, who organize volunteers and stewards for the Michigan Nature Association in the Keweenaw Peninsula. They work closely with sanctuary stewards Ted and Alice Soldan to maintain the boardwalks and trails. Bill Leonard said that as he’s working he enjoys talking with visitors and is always amazed by how many people from faraway places around the country come to see these giants multiple times.

“It just pulls people back,” Leonard said.

Indeed it does. But those visitors? For now, it seems, they can take their time.

 

William Rapai is the author of three Michigan Notable Books including The Kirtland’s Warbler (University of Michigan Press) and Lake Invaders (Wayne State University Press). He is also the president of Grosse Pointe Audubon.

As seen in the feature story in the Winter 2018 issue of the Michigan Nature magazine.